Why Weren’t Any Women Invited To Publishers Weekly’s Weenie Roast?

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Why Weren’t Any Women Invited To Publishers Weekly’s Weenie Roast?

Publishers Weekly recently announced their Best Books Of 2009 list. Of their top ten, chosen by editorial staff, no books written by women were included. Quoted in The Huffington Post, PW confidently admitted that they’re “not the most politically correct” choices. This statement comes in a year in which new books appeared by writers such as Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Rita Dove, Heather McHugh and Alicia Ostriker.

“The absence made me nearly speechless.” said writer Cate Marvin, cofounder of the newly launched national literary organization WILLA (Women In Letters And Literary Arts), which, since August, has attracted close to 5400 members on their Facebook web page, including many major and emerging women writers. “It continues to surprise me that literary editors are so comfortable with their bias toward male writing, despite the great and obvious contributions that women authors make to our contemporary literary culture.”

WILLA’s other cofounder, Erin Belieu, Director Of The Creative Writing Program at Florida State University, asked, “So is the flipside here that including women authors on the list would just have been an empty, politically correct gesture? When PW’s editors tell us they’re not worried about ‘political correctness,’ that’s code for ‘your concerns as a feminist aren’t legitimate.’ They know they’re being blatantly sexist, but it looks like they feel good about that. I, on the other hand, have heard from a whole lot of people—writers and readers–who don’t feel good about it at all.”

PW also did a Top 100 list and, of the authors included, only 29 were women. The WILLA Advisory Board is in the process of putting together a list titled “Great Books Published By Women In 2009.” This will be posted to the organization’s Facebook page and website. A WILLA Wiki has also been started for people to share their nominations for Great Books By Women in 2009. Press release to follow.

WILLA was founded to bring increased attention to women’s literary accomplishments and to question the American literary establishment’s historical slow-footedness in recognizing and rewarding women writer’s achievements. WILLA is about to launch their website and is in the process of planning their first national conference to be held next year.

(Note: until recently, WILLA went under the acronym WILA, with one “L.” If you’re interested in the organization, please Google WILA with one “L” to see background on how this group was originally formed.)

For more information contact:

Erin Belieu — ebelieu@fsu.edu

Cate Marvin — catemarvin@gmail.com

THE CONTENT

muscle_manMan Made of Books – Books Made of Men

Spent some time checking out the general content of the books that made the list – the summaries are all taken from the Publisher’s Weekly website below.  Simple to observe that the content that “stood out from the rest,” according to PW, is all about mostly male protagonists and their realities: war, adventure, science, boyhood adventures, taming the wilderness, the male writer’s life, etc.  In other words, the novels that deal with women’s realities simply “don’t stand out” – check Publishers Weekly TOP TEN:

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes (Pantheon)

[PRIMARILY ABOUT MALE PROTAGONISTS FOCUSED ON MOSTLY MALE SCIENTISTS]

Holmes, author of a much-admired biography of Coleridge, focuses on prominent British scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the astronomer William Herschel and his accomplished assistant and sister, Caroline; Humphrey Davy, a leading chemist and amateur poet; and Joseph Banks, whose journal of a youthful voyage to Tahiti was a study in sexual libertinism. Holmes’s biographical approach makes his obsessive protagonists (Davy’s self-experimenting with laughing gas is an epic in itself) the prototypes of the Romantic genius absorbed in a Promethean quest for knowledge.

~

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon (Ballantine)

[AGAIN, MOSTLY MALE PROTAGONISTS]

Eighteen-year-old Lucy Lattimore, her parents dead, flees her stifling hometown with charismatic high school teacher George Orson, soon to find herself enmeshed in a dangerous embezzling scheme. Meanwhile, Miles Chesire is searching for his unstable twin brother, Hayden, a man with many personas who’s been missing for 10 years and is possibly responsible for the house fire that killed their mother. Ryan Schuyler is running identity-theft scams for his birth father, Jay Kozelek, after dropping out of college to reconnect with him, dazed and confused after learning he was raised thinking his father was his uncle.

~

Big Machine by Victor LaValle (Spiegel & Grau)

[AGAIN, THE MALE REALITY WINS]

Gritty, mostly honest-hearted ex-heroin addict protagonist Ricky Rice takes a chance on an anonymous note delivered to him at the cruddy upstate New York bus depot where he works as a porter.

~

Cheever: A Life by Blake Bailey (Knopf)

[ALL ABOUT A MAN]

In this overlong but always entertaining biography, composed with a novelist’s eye, Bailey, biographer of Richard Yates and editor of two volumes of Cheever’s work for Library of America (also due in March), was given access to unpublished portions of Cheever’s famous journals and to family members and friends.

~

A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon by Neil Sheehan (Random House)

[AHEM, SERIOUS MALE REALITIES, WAR AND “REAL WORLD” SHIT]

The military-industrial complex proves an unlikely arena for plucky individualism in this history of the men who built America’s intercontinental ballistic missile program in the 1950s and ‘60s. Sheehan paints air force Gen. Bernard Schriever and his colorful band of military aides, civilian patrons, defense intellectuals and aerospace entrepreneurs as a guerrilla insurgency fighting Pentagon red tape, and a hostile air force brass, led by Strategic Air Command honcho Curtis LeMay, who advocated megatonnage bomber planes over ICBMs.

~

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin (Norton)

In eight beautifully crafted, interconnected stories, Mueenuddin explores the cutthroat feudal society in which a rich Lahore landowner is entrenched.

~

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer (Pantheon)

[WHOA, MANLY ADVENTURE]

Two 40-ish men seeking love and existential meaning are the protagonists of these highly imaginative twin novellas, written in sensuous, lyrical prose brimming with colorful detail.

~

Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann (Doubleday)

[SURPRISE:  MORE ON MEN AND THEIR ADVENTUROUS NATURES]

In 1925, renowned British explorer Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett embarked on a much publicized search to find the city of Z, site of an ancient Amazonian civilization that may or may not have existed. Fawcett, along with his grown son Jack, never returned, but that didn’t stop countless others, including actors, college professors and well-funded explorers from venturing into the jungle to find Fawcett or the city. Among the wannabe explorers is Grann, a staff writer for the New Yorker, who has bad eyes and a worse sense of direction.

~

Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford (Penguin Press)

[WHEW, THIS LIST SHOULD BE CALLED, “HOW MEN LIVE”]

Philosopher and motorcycle repair-shop owner Crawford extols the value of making and fixing things in this masterful paean to what he calls manual competence, the ability to work with one’s hands.

~

Stitches by David Small (Norton)

[AND HOW BOYS GROW UP TO BECOME MEN]

In this profound and moving memoir, Small, an award-winning children’s book illustrator, uses his drawings to depict the consciousness of a young boy. The story starts when the narrator is six years old and follows him into adulthood, with most of the story spent during his early adolescence.

~

**Why aren’t more people saying something about such blatant hypocrisies?  Publishers Weekly’s lists are likely consulted by librarians for acquisitions purposes – does this mean we are not interested in reading about women’s lives?  Is PW really *that* irresponsible?

13 thoughts on “Why Weren’t Any Women Invited To Publishers Weekly’s Weenie Roast?

    1. I don’t think cataloguing the ‘male/industrial/phallic’, etc representations/qualities of recent works is good feminist critique atall. Unless I’m missing the irony somewhere. As Helene Cixous reminds us the female text is without borders, “goes on and at a certain point the book ends but the writing continues” (“sans but et sans bout”). The genotext, language in motion idea ought to get everyone beyond this staged sense of outrage at the percentage of female (as opposed to male) books being published and recorded.

  1. Shouldn’t there be a marked distinction between anti-feminism
    and misogyny in the same way, for example, that there is a distinction drawn (by some) between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism ? A. leverkuhn

  2. It’s hard to say anything about this list. It has the same effect on me that it did on Cate Marvin: it leaves me “nearly speechless.” With what speech I have left, let me say I look forward to reading your new book, Amy.

  3. PW has spoken volumes in not speaking, but how does one break
    a relationship of obvious supplication? The consumer is the only
    trump card. The adjacent field is the short story. The money is
    increasing there. There is the seat of power. POD is still too high
    cost to crush the old bricks. Free-pdf vs POD($) has drained the
    blood from poetry and the suburban readings. The po racks at
    Borders slipped to about 1/3. The local bookstore
    told me they don’t do po readings any more….no money. The stories,
    on the other hand, are attended. The main buyers of short stories
    and novels are….women. Things to think about, several ways.
    That’s the view from suburbia.

  4. One would expect it to be hard to cross-check
    against actual sales, do to the self-fulfilling prophecies
    such a list can generate. However, when I checked the
    Barns+Noble List:
    http://www.barnesandnoble.com/bestsellers/list.asp?PID=20802&start=1&cds2Pid=20802

    …bestsellers of 2008, I came up with radically different results.
    Generally:
    —-Children’s books rule (they were perhaps even
    more left out of the PW list)
    —-A woman author writing about a boy’s fictional life writing
    some auxilliary tales (JK Rowling) takes the blockbuster spot
    —-Another woman author sweeps 6,7,8, and 9
    …but, with fantasy/adventure action stories, for young adults
    A lot of ‘female macho’ actually sprouts on these, w/respect to
    seeing female characters kicking butt.
    —-There is an esoteric, philosophical nerdy feel to many titles at the top
    Male, but much less testosterone than the PW list..

    All this would not diminish the issue of the PW list much, but it
    would point out just how at odds it is with women, children, intellectuals, men,
    imagination (since millions of adults buy the kids fantasy/adventure as well),
    and more.
    So my assertions based on observing activities at local
    bookstores, are also a bit off, too.

    Clearly, the PW list is pushing on a string. This would have the
    main effect of messing up sales and profits in the industry itself.
    A lot of venture-style capital has gone into big publishing, and the
    results have not been pretty for an industry already under pressure.
    Why waste all that attention on such contentious, tough boy-content?
    An interesting parallel to see is the bizarre, hypertrophic male designs
    of recent Chrysler products. Venture macho (test. levels actually
    measure higher in venture bankers) over-ruled even engineering,
    and you have designs that are puffed up like they need a load of saw palmetto
    or a prostate surgey. The upshot was, however……bad, bad sales numbers.
    Car buyers, like book buyers, barely even care about all this, or are grossed out,
    and have their own needs and adventures. The bottom line ignores
    that at its peril.

  5. If one book by a female author had been included, a charge of tokenism would have demeaned it; if two, likewise; if three, an insufficient number; if five, assumptions that the list was being treated like an athletic event, with female champions and male champions, or like the Oscars; if the list had been entirely of books by women, and if anyone attacked it as such, I’m sure many of the people offended by the current list would be offended, and argued that they all deserved their place.

    How many authors on the list are gay/straight, white/of other races, young/old? How many factors extraneous to the individual books as books do people have to juggle when evaluating worth?

    All top ten lists are merely games. Investing so much umbrage doesn’t serve women who write, or those who want to read more books by women. I find the list unbalanced too; I think my “male reality” would have been more usefully shaken from its ruts with a positive list of the books you’d have liked to see on the list, instead of sour pot-shots at the ones that are on it.

  6. Days later…a nagging dismay
    about exploration and science being
    tagged as ‘male’. That’s not right,
    or fair to girls who want to grow up
    an be inside the wonder and the
    invention. I am very proud of mine.
    They will exceed me, despite it all.

  7. Dear Amy

    I find this list offensive. However, I would also find an all-female list equally offensive.
    When I attended a co-ed comprehensive school in Britain in the 1970’s, I thought that we had at last achieved true sexual equality. Since then, sexual bigots of both genders have returned us to the dark ages.

    Best wishes from Simon

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